Tuesday, 28 December 2021 : Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, all the infants aged two and below that had been massacred by King Herod the Great in his futile efforts and attempts to destroy the infant King of Israel, the One Who was prophesied by the prophets to come into this world and Who would rule over the people as King. King Herod henceforth feared that his rule and power would be taken over from him and his family, and handed over to this new King, and hence, he tried to eliminate Him no matter what.

Contextually, we can understand his actions better if we know more about how King Herod the Great rose to power. He was born as the son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high ranking official in the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom hailing from the region south of Israel known then as Idumaea or the ancient Edom, the neighbouring state bordering the land of Israel. According to historical traditions, the ancestors of Herod had converted to the Jewish faith, and dwelled among the descendants of Israel in Judea. Nonetheless, as he owed his rise to power to the assistance and support of the Romans, he has always felt insecure in his power and rule.

Why is that so, brothers and sisters in Christ? That is because he could be considered as a usurper, having usurped the rightful rule over Judea and the other traditional lands of Israel from the Hasmonean kings, the descendants of the Maccabees who won independence for the Jewish people a century prior. King Herod seized power from the last of the Hasmonean kings and forcibly took one of the Hasmonean princesses as his wife. And his rule in Judea and beyond was characterised with its megalomaniac nature and immense building projects, such as the rebuilding of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, henceforth known colloquially as Herod’s Temple, and also other major buildings such as the Herodion and many others.

Herod’s preoccupation with building such grand scale projects was a reflection of his great fear of being treated as a usurper, and as a usurper indeed he was, he feared that one day his rule and kingdom would be overcome by anyone who would contest his power and authority, being someone with greater claim to the kingship than himself. Hence, it was no wonder that the moment King Herod heard about the coming King of Israel through the three Wise Men or Magi that he began to do all that he could to find out more about the coming King, the Messiah of God, and later on, in his attempts to eliminate this threat to his rule.

Herod the Great’s paranoia and determination to hold onto power no matter what the cost ultimately caused him to commit the great and heinous sin of murder, as he ordered the murder of so many innocents in Bethlehem just that he might destroy his opponent, the newborn King of Israel. He ordered his men to commit such great murders, shedding the blood of the innocent children in order to secure his own power and authority, because he was only interested in maintaining his own glory and kingdom, and caring not for the plight of those whose lives he had destroyed, whose family members he had killed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through this historical example of the massacre of Bethlehem, we are all called to reflect on the dangers presented by sin on our daily living, for sin can easily corrupt us and mislead us down the wrong path, and cause us to succumb to evil deeds like what King Herod had done. That is how many of us had sinned and how many of our predecessors have fallen into sin, and even into damnation because of their inability to resist the allures of sin. Some of us even perhaps deny that we have sinned, and how everything we have done can be justified, for our own purposes and needs.

As St. John stated in his Epistle that we heard as our first reading today, we deceive ourselves if we say that we have no sin. All of us are sinners and the Lord alone has the power to forgive us and free us from the bondage of sin. That He has done, and He has come into this world, incarnate and born in the person of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour as we celebrate in this Christmas season. He has shown us the way out of the darkness and into His new Light, and what we need to do is for us to follow Him, reject sin and refuse to allow ourselves to be swayed by it.

As Christians, all of us should look up to Christ, the True Light and Hope that God has brought upon us and that He has given to us, as the manifestation of His love for each one of us. Let us all remember the memory of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, holy and innocent martyrs of mankind’s greed and ambition, which had led to so much sufferings, pains and sorrows, as they abused the freedom given to them, the authority and power entrusted to them as Herod the Great himself had done. Let us all not fall to the same temptations and let us do whatever we can to follow the Lord wholeheartedly, committing ourselves to His cause from now on.

May God bless us all, and may He strengthen us in our faith, that we may always aspire to be better Christians, in all things and in all deeds. Let us all distance ourselves from sin, and be good role models for each other. Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, martyrs of purity and virtue, pray for us all, your fellow brothers and sisters, now and always. Amen.

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